When boxer Miguel Cotto enters the ring on Saturday night to face Sadam Ali, he will carry with him a proud Puerto Rican boxing tradition. Over the decades Puerto Rico has had to fight for many things, from its status, to its economy and now its very survival. So it should come as no surprise that the island has produced some of boxing’s top fighters. When its all said and done where will Miguel Cotto fall in the pantheon of Puerto Rico’s boxers? Well, let’s take a look at those who came before him.
1. Felix Trinidad
Before Cotto held the title of Puerto Rico’s “favorite son,” Felix “Tito” Trinindad wore it proudly for over 10 years during the 1990’s and early 2000’s. The three-division champion from Fajardo, faced the best of his generation, amassing victories over the likes of Pernell Whitaker, Hector Camacho, Fernando Vargas and in perhaps the biggest victory of his career a win over Oscar De La Hoya.
It was only in the later stages of his career when he went up to 160 lbs. did he taste any form of defeat, first in a unification bout against Bernard Hopkins and later comeback attempts against Roy Jones and Winkie Wright. Yet, given the level of opposition one could hardly consider them blemishes to what was a brilliant career. Tito would finish his time in the ring at 42-3 with 35 KO’s.
2. Hector Camacho
Say what you will about the outrageous showmanship, ring outfits and braggadocio, but Hector “Macho” Camacho was a fighter you could not look away from. As Larry Merchant once put it, “his speed of hand, [was] matched only by his speed of foot and mouth.” From the “Macho Time” chants, to the front curl, he certainly was ahead of his time in terms of marketing. However, don’t let flash take away from the substance. During the 1980’s into the early 1990’s Camacho was a force of nature, primarily at the Jr. Lightweight and Lightweight divisions. Lightning fast hands, combinations in bunches and sneaky power. That all however, changed when he met fellow Boricua Edwin Rosario in 1986. Wobbled twice in that fight by Rosario left hooks, he was able to rely on his boxing ability to squeak out a split decision, yet after that he clearly became a safety-first fighter. Despite this, he would go on to win titles in four divisions, beat fighters like Ray Mancini, Vinny Pazienza, Jose Luis Ramirez along the way. His career spanned 30 years even at one point fighting on the same card as his son Hector Camacho, Jr. In 2012, he was tragically killed.
3. Wifred Benitez
Some may argue Wilfred Benitez was the best fighter to ever come out of Puerto Rico. Why? He holds the distinction of being the youngest fighter to ever win a championship – doing so at the tender age of 17. He was also the first world champion in three weight classes since the fabulous Henry Armstrong 43 years earlier. Now, that’s not just good for boxing in Puerto Rico, but boxing in general.
Throughout his career, “El Radar” would go on to win world titles at welterweight and light middleweight, facing the greats of his generation along the way. Close battles against Thomas Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran, the latter of which he defeated, were among them.
Yet, Benitez often does not get the props he deserves. Why? He came of age in the golden era of boxing in the late 70’s and early 80’s when those aforementioned contemporaries were in their primes. His losses in very competitive fights to Hearns and Leonard—by majority decision to the “Hitman” and by a TKO in the 15th round to Leonard, would dim his star just a bit.
4. Wilfredo Gomez
When boxing utters the phrase ‘big little men’ Wilfredo “Bazooka” Gomez should come to mind. The super bantamweight (e.g., 122 lbs) was one of the top knockout punchers of his time. The first fight of his career was a draw. But he clearly made an adjustment because he would win his next 32 fights by stoppage. Like many fighters in the lighter weights, Gomez stepped up to for bigger challenges and pay days. He got them when he faced featherweight great Mexico’s Salvador Sanchez in a super fight. Gomez suffered the first loss of his career but still went on to capture a world title at 126 pounds when he beat fellow Boricua Juan Laporte. Gomez moved up further to Jr. Lightweight where he became a three-division champion For his career, Gomez was 44-3-1 with 42 KOs. Yeah, we think that’s worthy of being on this list.
5. Jose Torres
Trained by the famous Cus D’Amato, trainer to heavyweight champions Floyd Patterson and Mike Tyson. The Ponce native was a silver medalist at the 1956 Summer Olympics. He would make his pro debut in 1958, rattling off 35 wins before beating beat Willie Pastrano to capture the light heavyweight world championship in 1965. Yet, Torres would also see success outside of the ring. From 1984 to 1988 he served as the New York State Athletic Commissioner and President of WBO in the 1990’s. In retirement, he would go on to biographies of both Ali and Tyson.